Scientists Say: Biofilm | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Biofilm

These are slimy clumps of microbes that cling anywhere they can
Jul 17, 2017 — 6:50 am EST
TEETH

Caption: 

Ewww. Dental plaque is actually a biofilm — a big conglomeration of microbes.

Credit: 

watanyou/istockphoto

Ewww. Dental plaque is actually a biofilm — a big conglomeration of microbes.

watanyou/istockphoto

Biofilm (noun, “BYE-oh-film”)

This is a clump of microbes attached to a solid surface. A single biofilm can have tens of millions of cells. The microbes in that biofilm produce a sticky slime that helps the group to stay together and in the same place. Biofilms can form a comfortable home for germs or other microbes. They can also help microbes survive periods of stress — such as when we try to poison them with antibiotics.

In a sentence

Biofilms can thrive anywhere there is enough food and water — from the hull of a boat to your teeth.

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Power Words

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antibiotic     A germ-killing substance, usually prescribed as a medicine (or sometimes as a feed additive to promote the growth of livestock). It does not work against viruses.

biofilm     A gooey community of different types of microbes that essentially glues itself to some solid surface. Living in a biofilm is one way microbes protect themselves from stressful agents (such as poisons) in their environment.

cell     The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.

germ     Any one-celled microorganism, such as a bacterium or fungal species, or a virus particle. Some germs cause disease. Others can promote the health of more complex organisms, including birds and mammals. The health effects of most germs, however, remain unknown.

microbe     Short for microorganism. A living thing that is too small to see with the unaided eye, including bacteria, some fungi and many other organisms such as amoebas. Most consist of a single cell.

solid     Firm and stable in shape; not liquid or gaseous.

species     A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

stress     (in biology) A factor — such as unusual temperatures, moisture or pollution — that affects the health of a species or ecosystem.